Welcome to the age of freelancers. Sure, freelance labor has always been a thing. Samurai warriors worked for hire in 15th century Japan. Privateers such as Francis Drake carried out all manner of mischief for their monarchs on a contract basis in the years that followed. And Pet Sounds, the beloved Beach Boys album, features for-hire performances from the musicians of the legendary Wrecking Crew.
But the past decade has seen an unprecedented rise in independent workers. Part of this trend is generational, as fewer Americans feel obligated to follow the traditional route of attending college, working the same job for 40–50 years, and then retiring with a pension. There isn’t anything wrong with that model, but it has never been one-size-fits-all.
Younger generations are more likely to view college and careers with scrutiny. If it works for them and offers value, they’ll commit. Otherwise, they’ll seek alternatives more aligned with their lifestyle and priorities.
In 2014, there were 53 million freelancers in America. Jump ahead just 6 years and that number has climbed to 57 million, with about 35% of American workers currently wearing the badge of “freelancer.”
“It’s mostly about freedom,” explains a freelance industry analysis from Forbes. “[Freelancers] don’t want to sit in a cubicle with someone telling them what to do. Full-time freelancers say the top draws of self-employment are flexibility (77%), followed by being their own boss (77%) and working from the location of their choosing—and being able to choose their own projects (tied for 74%). Perhaps not surprisingly, freelancing is catching on with W-2 workers, too. 80% of non-freelancers say they would be willing to do additional freelance work to make more money, and 60% say they will do freelance work in the future.”
The freelance life seems to be a match made in heaven for many workers, but let’s examine what it offers to those who employ them. It’s a two-way street, or else there would never be enough businesses willing to hire the tens of millions of Americans currently working as freelancers.
Here are some of freelancing’s major perks for employers:
Of course, there are potential downsides to using a freelancer. The independent nature of the relationship makes it harder to monitor their work and ensure accurate billing. It can also be harder to train them and prepare them for projects.
Talking about the benefits and drawbacks of freelancers is a very generalized pursuit—after all, you have to paint with a fairly large brush if you’re going to describe 57 million people.
“It turns out you can find plenty of talented professionals online to help you grow your small business,” says business expert Joseph Liu. “It also turns out you can end up working with unqualified professionals who will make your life as a business owner much more difficult. I’ve been fortunate enough to find plenty of the former, but unfortunately, I’ve also had my fair share of the latter. I hired an animator who misrepresented her skills. I hired a podcast production consultant who claimed to be a technical expert but actually knew very little. And I hired multiple web developers who over-promised but under-delivered. All of these hiring mistakes were costly, time-consuming, and incredibly frustrating.”
The ultimate goal in the hiring process is to weed out those who might cause issues down the line. Here are 6 tips for landing the best freelancer for your unique needs:
Remember the importance of due diligence as you go through the hiring process. Urgent timelines might occasionally prevent you from proceeding as carefully as you’d prefer, but you should always make sure you feel confident before proceeding to the next step in the process.
Hiring freelancers is no different from any other aspect of business—the more time you spend on planning and execution, the fewer issues there will be on the back end. This way, you’ll set your small business up for positive freelancer experiences and prime results.